Monday, August 22, 2011

Can we expect 3 car teams in the future?

There are a lot of things to talk about in F1. Sometimes the same topic keeps cropping up from time to time usually because there is someone pushing the agenda whether it is a team, the FIA or FOM (Bernie). Something that has received off and on talk for several years is whether if teams should be allowed to race with three cars. Although the issue is quiet right now, we know that things are always in play. I think the main question is, with the sport in cost control mode, will there be a point in which budgets come to a level where having three cars is not cost prohibitive? I think that we are not to far from it.

Teams running third cars during grand prix weekends is not really new. From 2004 to 2006 teams were allowed to use a third car during the grand prix weekend as long they did not finish in the top four of the previous year's constructor's championship. Although they were not allowed to race it had advantages. Teams were able to evaluate younger talent during the pressure of a grand prix weekend, acquire additional data for race preparation and free test experimental parts. Then as easily as it came into effect, it went away for the 2007 season.

Almost five full season later, the talk is still around about third cars. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo is on record that he will continue to push for the top teams be allowed to run three cars. He is also a strong advocate of a return to in season testing; something FIA president, Jean Todt is very much on the same page on. I guess we will see if di Montezemolo keeps the lobbying pressure on.

I will certainly like to see teams have the option to run a third car. In addition to the potential return of in-season testing, having a third car allows for more young driver development, more practical testing opportunities and of course more data for GP's. Also, it is benefit to Pirelli as it will allow them to collect more data. However, that might not be as big a need in the next couple of years. Moreover, the afore mentioned Ferrari seems to be willing to run a third car, McLaren is more than likely to be in a position to run third car, Red Bull Racing own and run four cars (RBR and Toro Rosso). Bigger grids certainly add another dimension and increasing the number of good cars ups the level of competition.

One may ask how does this effect the championship? If third cars return, teams do not have to race a third car every race; they can essentially be wild card entries eligible for driver points only. F1 can utilize a system that was previously used in the World Rally Championship in which teams can nominate two cars for constructor points if they have a third car entered.

One of the cases against three car teams would be that it would push smaller teams out. I do not agree with this as there would be no reason to force teams to run a third car if they were not able to. Their constructor position in the championship is not effected as three car teams would only be able to nominate two cars for constructor points. A smaller team may get into an arms race with another small team, but that is competition. Another point to consider is that there still would be how to deal with potential cost issues. How do teams go about securing extra engines and tires and is there enough space in the garage area? Do tracks need some modifications?

Keep an eye on Jean Todt. As he pushes through some of FIA environmental initiatives and the global economy recovers, we will see third cars make a comeback to the front burner of F1 discussion, and I think its eventual reinstatement.

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